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French Open path is open for Sharapova, but will that stop underdog Bouchard?

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, the world No. 16, faces a global celebrity in four-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 8 Maria Sharapova at a Roland Garros semi-final so hotly anticipated in could upstage the final.

Darko Vojinovic, Michel Spingler/AP

Sharapova has dominated their only two meetings

The two have met twice before. Sharapova needed just 57 minutes to dust then 123rd-ranked Bouchard 6-2, 6-0 on hard-court last March in Miami. Two months later in Paris, No. 77 Bouchard lost 6-2, 6-4 but was it was slightly more competitive. Sharapova's heavy, penetrating ground strokes seemed to trouble Bouchard and the Canadian won just 10 of their 30 games. But now No. 16, Bouchard has improved fitness, strength and movement, more powerful shots and new match experience: eight more matches against top 10 players and a pair of successful Grand Slam pushes.

Sharapova gets the best of young players

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The tall Russian is 27, while the young Canadian is 20, which makes way for a telling statistic: Sharapova is 138-27 in her career against opponents 20 years or younger, 38-10 when she has faced them in Grand Slams. Bouchard is the youngest woman left in the tournament.

The experience factor

Sharapova has won 31 WTA titles and $28-million in prize money; Bouchard has made $1.2-million and just earned her first title last month. While the Canadian is the only woman appearing in both Grand Slam semis of 2014, the veteran is playing in the 18th of her career, where she has an 8-9 record, 2-2 at the French Open. Bouchard lost her first one, 6-2, 6-4 to Li Na at the Australian Open in January.

What have you done lately?

Bouchard has a 30-11 record in 2014 with one tournament title; while Sharapova is 29-6 with two, both on clay. The Montrealer is in the midst of the longest win streak in her pro career at ten, and hasn't faltered since back-to-back first-round losses at Madrid and Rome. Sharapova is coming off a second-round loss to No. 11 Ana Ivanovic in Rome.

Sharapova has evolved into Claypova

The 6-foot-2, long-legged Russian described herself on clay as "a cow on ice" back in 2007, but after working tirelessly on her movement, the dusty red stuff has since become her most successful surface. Sharapova is 17-1 on clay in 2014, and has won 52 of her last 56 on the dirt. She has 17 clay titles, including the 2012 French Open. She's known to kick her serve even more effectively on the red stuff.

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Expect a mental tug of war

Sharapova's mental strength has been behind a lot of her success historically, fighting through injuries and past surgeries, winning long rallies on clay. But this week, both women have dipped into their sizable reserves of determination. In her past two matches, Sharapova lost the first set but completely controlled the third, rallying to beat Garbine Muguruza and Samantha Stosur. Bouchard fought out of a 4-1 hole in the deciding set against Carla Suarez-Navarro in Tuesday's quarterfinal and clawed her way into the final four.

How Bouchard could win

Sharapova will hit definitely heavy shots and expert winners, so Bouchard will have to shake some off. The Canadian must do what she does best – hit the ball early to rush her opponent and take aggressive shots. Dictating has been Williams' recipe for success against Sharapova. Experts used to say hitting wide to the tall star on clay to move her off the court was best, but the veteran is moving better now than ever on the surface. ESPN analyst Pam Shriver says Sharapova's second serve can break down late in a long tournament. "Bouchard could put pressure on her second serve, let Sharapova know she's going to swing from the hip on these returns and punish her if anything falls short in the service box and send the signal early, 'you're going to have to serve extremely well to beat me,'" Shriver said. "And I love what Muguruza showed in Paris – go big down the middle and these players with long limbs feel cramped like they can't extend and move out."

Bouchard is making tennis history in Canada

Before Bouchard, the previous Canadian to reach a singles semi-final at a Grand Slam was William Johnston at the 1923 U.S. Championships. Robert Powell (Wimbledon, 1908) is the only other Canadian to reach a Grand Slam final four. Bouchard has only played in five Grand Slams, and already, this is her second semi. With a win, she would face either Simona Halep or Andrea Petkovic in Saturday's final.

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Favourite vs Dark horse

When Sharapova's nemesis Serena Williams lost out early in Paris, the Russian went from a French Open long shot to its favourite. The path seemed to open up for Sharapova, who is 2-16 against Williams, to storm Paris after losing in last year's final. Yet one of the more common pretournament dark-horses chosen by experts was Bouchard. Odds-makers at British betting site William Hill have Sharapova as a 3-to-10 favourite in this semi-final, Bouchard a 5-to-2 underdog.

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